Xi Visit Lifts China-Arab Relations to a New Strategic Level

The “milestone” 3-day visit of President Xi to Saudi Arabia December 13-16, featured three summits: one with the Saudi leadership, one with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and the first ever China-Arab summit. As a result, the China-Arab relationship will move to an entirely new level, from economics and trade to increasing cooperation in the areas of culture, politics and security. President Xi held bilateral meetings with some 20 of the many Arab leaders in attendance.

As President Xi indicated in an article he wrote prior to his visit which was published in Al Ryadh, the relationship between China and the Arab world hearkens back to the ancient Silk Road, which now provides a major avenue of South-South cooperation. At the time, he noted, China provided porcelain, paper-making and printing techniques to the Arab world, and brought back the Arabs’ advanced understanding in astronomy, medicine, and calendar-making.

Today, the relationship with the Saudis, in particular, has broadened into a comprehensive strategic partnership. This is cause for great consternation in Washington and London, which have counted on the House of Saud as a steadfast ally in the region. Riyadh, however, has strongly opposed their attempts to disrupt the global oil markets with sanctions against Russia and to cap the price of Russian oil sold (cf. above). Saudi Arabia, as well as the other OPEC countries have indicated that they will not cooperate with such an aggressive policy.

Many bilateral deals were inked during the course of the trip, as Saudi Arabia has already become involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, and China has invested in key infrastructure projects, with more expected. One of the main projects the BRI has accomplished is a high-speed rail link between Medina and Mecca. As was expected, major contracts were signed with regard to the supply of oil and gas, which has become very important for the growing Chinese economy. China has invested in major new refineries in Saudi Arabia and is prepared to help develop new oil fields there as well.

President Xi proposed, in his speech to the China Arab Summit, eight initiatives that the two sides should work on: support for economic development, food security, public health, green innovation, energy security, inter-civilizational dialogue, youth development, and security and stability.

In his statement at the China-GCC Summit, the Chinese leader pointed to cooperation in energy, finance and investment, innovation and new technologies, aerospace, and language and culture. He also urged the countries to establish a working mechanism for bilateral investment and economic cooperation, including digital currency cooperation. Much of China’s trade in the region is now done in RMB, and China will encourage moving further in the direction of using local currencies in trade.

President Xi underlined at the China-Arab Summit the importance of peace and security in the Middle East and promised that China would play a greater role in securing those conditions. He also renewed China’s commitment to a land-for-peace solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, taking a firm step to support a just resolution for the Palestinian people.

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